Reviews London TheatreWest End & Central Published 18 April 2016

Review: The Caretaker at the Old Vic

Old Vic ⋄ 29th March - 14th May 2016

Strange strangers: Tim Bano reviews Matthew Warchus’ production of Pinter.

Tim Bano
The Caretaker at the Old Vic. Photo: Manuel Harlan.

The Caretaker at the Old Vic. Photo: Manuel Harlan.

Spall can’t stay still. His hands refuse to rest on his face or side and he squirms and squirms. His voice, too, barely settles on words. Most of the time it sounds like general grumbling and growling. A mixture of Steptoe from Steptoe and Son, and Rowley Birkin from the Fast Show, and Catherine Tate’s Nan. Occasional key words coalesce into something discernible.

He is Davies, the down-and-out who moves up and in to the flat of kindly Aston, whom he met in a bar. His performance is all very well done. He lives in his own little world, both a beggar and a chooser. He demands luxury, despite his straitened circumstances, because it affords him dignity. If he puts up with any old shit, then any old shit is what he’ll be given.

And yet that maintenance of dignity swells until his lack of gratitude towards Daniel Mays’s quiet, limping Aston becomes callous. He’s taking advantage of the kindness of a stranger. Strange strangers these are too: men who can never quite summon the energy to do the thing they intend to do. It’s more than laziness – there’s a big psychological barrier preventing Aston from building his shed, preventing Davies from going to Sidcup, preventing Aston’s brother Mick from doing up the flat. They’re afraid that by completing that pipe dream, everything they imagine will follow – doors opened to a new lease of life – just won’t.

Spall is studied and spot on in his creation of Davies; Mays creates his character with gestures and gait and face, but they don’t match the unconvincing delivery. His long monologue, during which he reveals the brutal electro-convulsive treatment he received, is a quiet and commanding moment; there is beauty in his simple kindness, too. But he’s playing it smaller than the other two actors – and is slightly drowned out as a result.

Best of the bunch is George Mackay, an extraordinary presto to Spall’s lento. He spits his gushing stream of lines with clarity and pace and his mere presence is a threatening imposition into the already fraught relationship between Davies and Aston.

Matthew Warchus’s production has tried to allow great actors to perform a great text. But something doesn’t quite click. ‘Look how good this play is’, the production seems to say, but by drawing attention to its every detail and accomplishment the production forgets that a play is meant to convince you of the reality it weaves. Showmanship. There’s nothing else here. Of course, that’s entertaining – but only up to a point.

The Caretaker is on until 14th May 2016. Click here for tickets.


Tim Bano

Tim is a freelance arts writer and theatre critic. He writes regularly for Time Out, The Stage and other publications. He is co-creator of Pursued By A Bear, Exeunt Magazine's theatre podcast.

Review: The Caretaker at the Old Vic Show Info

Directed by Matthew Warchus

Written by Harold Pinter

Cast includes Daniel Mays, Timothy Spall, George Mackay



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